Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Little Joe’s Books

Every time an Indie bookstore opens, an angel gets its wings. At least I think so, especially a children’s Indie. Today the Mixed-Up Files focuses our spotlight on Little Joe’s Books of Katonah, New York newly opened in October. Intrepid reporter that I am, I asked owner Jen Cook a few tough questions.

 

 

What inspired you to run a children’s bookstore?

I own Noka Joe’s, the coffee/candy shop downstairs which is a community meeting spot. I’m the former president of the Katonah Chamber of Commerce and a long-time resident. I sought community feedback for the best use of the retail space above Noka Joe’s. Overwhelmingly, residents wanted a children’s bookstore in town. When Borders went out of business (in nearby Mt. Kisco) it was a tipping point. The opportunity was there.

We had a community wide contest to name it. The winning entry: Little Joe’s Books.

What do you like best about running a bookstore?

It’s a lovely, happy business. Noka Joe’s downstairs is a family place and the bookstore is an extension of that. Northern Westchester is ideal because so many people raise their families here.

How do you compete with giants like Barnes & Noble and Amazon?

Well, we’ve only been open for two weeks [note: back in October], but there are no large bookstores close by. I see the two big competitors for us to be 1) e-Book downloads and 2) Amazon. But, particularly young kids books are not good for electronics. Pop-up books, picture books, board books are something kids want to touch. For Amazon, yes, they could save a little by buying online, but our bookstore allows parents and kids to browse. It helps kids get hooked on reading when they can handle the books, get drawn in by the cover, read the back. Our book guru, Genevieve leBotton, can offer book suggestions. We offer book + experience + community*.

[*Author’s note: Followed by pastry, coffee, and a bagful of candy from downstairs. Win, win!]

How do you decide what goes on your shelves?

Let me introduce you to Genevieve. She was manager of the kids department at Borders for six years.

Genevieve: Since we’re just starting out, we used a wholesaler that recommends a starter inventory. I add to that based on the interactions I’ve had with kids from this area for the last six years. I get a feeling for what they like. This is a very well educated, socially aware community. I know what titles they’re drawn to. Not always things on the best-seller list. Like Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind or Francisco Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World. I spend a lot of time talking and listening to our customers. We’ve increased inventory by twenty-five percent based on community recommendations so far. We also have a bulletin board where the community can make recommendations or suggestions.

 

Jen Cook and Genevieve leBotton

 

Do you follow reviews in journals or magazines to find books too?

Genevieve: That’s something that’s been really different from working at Borders. There, our inventory was just given to us. Now I do a lot of research, and I’m still learning, looking at ALA and Publisher’s Weekly. I want to find books that are odd and special and give them to readers who will love them.

What do you promote? How do you increase sales?

Jen: We’ve been very active with social media. We have an email list, and we’re on Twitter and Facebook. In the store, we have a display of New Releases, and a display of our Favorite Books.

Do you plan on having kid book clubs, kid book recommendations, or kid lit themed parties? Ways for kids to be involved?

Jen: We’re still brainstorming ideas. Most likely we’ll have a book club for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. We want to hear what the community wants.

What kind of upcoming events do you have planned? [Jen hands me a flyer.]

[Reads flyer eagerly] It reads: An author visit by Barbara Dee (one of my fave MG writers), regular story hours, and a cool program where kids can read to their reading dog, Whoopsie Daisy, a black lab who loves listening to early readers who may need a little practice.

Have you had a lot of local authors stop by?

Jen: I met a lot of authors at the Children’s Book Day at Sunnyside [note: more than 50 authors attended]. Mostly local authors and I told them about the store. Many were enthusiastic about it. We do have author visits on our schedule of events.

Since this is the Mixed-Up Files, we have to know: what’s your favorite middle-grade book?

Jen: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Genevieve: My absolute favorite is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. That book changed my life. House on fire, that’s the book I’d take with me. And I also have a new fave, it just came out, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. It’s SO good.

 

So, house on fire, what one middle-grade book would you take with you? Tell us in the comments!

To learn more about Little Joe’s Books, check out their website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

 

Karen B. Schwartz counts herself lucky to have an indie children’s bookstore nearby for stocking up on middle-grade books for her huge to-be-read pile. And for her kids. Of course! It’s all for them. Let’s go with that.

 

Indie Spotlight! Book People

Happy Happy Holiday morning, dear Mixed-up files Readers! Have I got a special indie spotlight for you today! I mean, innovative? Doesn’t even start the tip of the iceberg in describing this great bookstore!

Today I have the honor of interviewing Meghan Goel, amazing Young person’s buyer for Book People, based in Austin, Texas!

We’re going to slant this interview especially towards all the absolutely amazing promotions these guys do. I wanted to add the normal, general stuff as well, but we ended up spending over an hour talking about their absolutely AMAZING promotions and books and ideas, and I have to say, if I ever lived anywhere in the US, I’d make sure to visit Book People just for what all they offer! It’s amazing!

But check it out for yourself…

JKB: Meghan, welcome to the Mixed-Up Files! You’re located in one of my favorite states of all, Texas, and one of the coolest cities in it, Austin! How long have you been with Book People? And you’ve been buying the YA/MG/PBs ever since? Match made in heaven, I think!

MG: Thanks! I’ve been here about five years, now. And yes, been the young persons buyer the entire time!

JKB: I’ve snooped through your website, and I think it’s great. It looks like you’ve got a real handle on books and a definite corner on the market in Austin! Can you tell me a bit about how Book People sets itself apart from the competition – both online and off? (Because frankly you’ve got one of the better setups I think I’ve ever seen! Other indies, take note!)

MG: Sure! We’ve got so many great things…I’ll start with author visits. Not only do we have your standard author visit, but we actually cooperate with the school system to bring the authors to the schools – and make real events of it!

JKB: You bring the authors to the schools?

MG: Yes! It’s such a nice merge of author visit and interactive for the kids, the teachers love it – and the students do too! We also do family nights, where the entire gang comes down and participates in an author signing. We get a lot of families doing that.

JKB: I bet! It looks like you have some big players come through your doors, too!

MG: We’ve been very fortunate. *g* We had the smart chicks tour through most recently, and Vordak, and that was a lot of fun! We get a lot of great authors coming through Austin.

JKB: I bet! And I see here you also run literary camps?

MG: Yes. That was the brilliant idea of our outreach director, and kids and parents have been amazingly supportive and excited for them!

JKB: I would have killed to go to a book camp when I was little! I absolutely love that idea!

MG: We’ve got lots more where that came from! There’s our teen book festival, which  had over 1000 teens this year, an amazing turnout! We also work with doing smarter book fairs.

JKB: What’s that?

MG: We have roughly four large book fairs at our four biggest schools throughout the system in the year. We’ll make up lists (like for instance, the summer list had about 700 titles on it) and distribute those. Then the kids’ll order and boom, instant book happiness! We also do smaller book fairs inside the store, so that the family can join in.

JKB: Oh, cool! Family as in parents and everything? What a cool idea, to have a book fair in the store for parents too!

MG: Yes. You have to remember, kids aren’t our only customers. We have to sell to parents, grandparents, we have to keep all the markets in mind at the same time. That’s why physically the school book fairs are a great way to interest our core fans. The parents and other markets we get at our book family nights, author signings, and so on.

JKB: That’s true. I know many authors wonder how to reach the kid through the parents, but sounds like you have both sides at once here! Now, do you also worry about Amazon, or online sellers?

MG: Well, you can’t discount them. But we’re working with google ebooks, and we sell on our site as well, so we’re doing a lot in that arena now. We also have Facebook and Twitter for online outreach, and do specialised promotions only for those areas.

JKB: Like … ?

MG: Like giveaways, tickets, and so on. Our fans have another way to win and we get more online presence. It’s a win win situation!

JKB: So, how do you like to find your books? Tell me about a couple that are flying off the shelves, or a couple of your personal favorites?

MG: Well, one you’d not think would but is is “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda”. The mix of humor and Star Wars, the comedy in it … what a great book! I personally like “Finnegan of the Rock” as well, and do hand sell that a lot. I find that if I love a personal gem, I have a lot more leeway to show it to people in an independent bookstore. We have people ask us what we recommend all the time, and you can’t get that so easily in other formats of book selling!

JKB: Very true! So, working anything up for the holidays?

MG: We do! We make a yearly “Best of 2010” list for different sections, and we also create a Holiday catalogue and distribute that both online and in print! It really helps our customers find that perfect  book for that perfect someone.

JKB: *In AWE* Oh wow, you guys are on top of things! Thank you SO MUCH for coming to TMUF and agreeing to be our FEATURED HOLIDAY INDIE for December! Here’s my thing, guys: You’ve still got time before Christmas! Go to Book People NOW and buy something, and please support this absolutely fabulous bookstore!

I know I’ve bookmarked their site, and I’m gonna order through them from now on! Spread the holiday cheer, my friends!

And have a great one!

Indie spotlight! ABC Books in Amsterdam, the Netherlands!

Today we say Hallo to ABC bookstore and Tiemen, the children’s buyer for the BIGGEST and BEST store in Amsterdam! Now, you all know I love me some Netherlands (everyone thinks I’m from there, even if I speak English *cries*) and Tiemen is absolutely grand. I knew ABC would be an awesome bookstore for us to interview and hey, I was right!!

Help me welcome Tiemen and ABC!!

(For those that would like a link: The Mixed up Files ABC Bookstore Netherlands!)

JKB: Welcome, Tiemen! So how long has the ABC been around?

TZ: The American Book Center has been around for a quite a while. It was started by a couple of hippies in the seventies in Amsterdam. Originally it didn’t even had a children’s section, but only pulp books and trashy magazines from the states. The current owner, Lynn Kaplanian, was an American student that was travelling abroad through Europe. She was in need of money so when she was in Amsterdam she applied for a temporary job at the ABC. Soon she discovered she had a real talent for selling books and weeks became months, months became years and eventually she became the owner of the store.

Thirty years later the ABC has moved several times and grown to become one of the biggest independent English bookstores in Europe. With a very nice Children’s and Young Adult section if I may say so.

JKB: Oh, I think you can DEFINITELY say so. *points at lovely book picture*

**drools**

That bookshelf would be something to be proud of, even in the US! What English Young Adult books are you finding that you simply cannot keep on the shelves?

TZ: ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy by Suzanne Collins is very popular at the moment. It’s a real page-turner so it it’s not only kids who read it. Also the books by Rick Riordan are very popular at the moment. His books are like the American version of Harry Potter with their mix of mythology.

The books by John Green – Looking for Alaska, Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns – are bestsellers. They are hilarious and at the same time deeply emotional books about teens growing up.

Finally the ‘Fallen’ books by Kate Lauren has ushered in the fallen angel hype that is now slowly replacing the vampire romance hype.

JKB: Do you do events for the kids? What kinds?

TZ: The American Book Center has a large Children’s and Young Adult section, but it is still a small section of the store overall. We do have events, but these events tend to focus on art and design books (Amsterdam has a large community of young artists or otherwise creative people and the ABC has a very large art and design section).

**drools again**

We do sometimes have book-signings by authors but the problem is often that it is very hard to have them come from abroad.

We do give schoolchildren and teachers a discount on all the books they buy. Still I would love to have more events specifically for kids and a book reading event for children is high on my wish-list.

JKB:  This sounds awesome! I know we’ve got some serious authors that would be happy to stop by! *g* How difficult is it to promote English children’s books and English books in a foreign speaking market?

TZ: Promoting English books in general is actually very easy in the Netherlands. This has to do with the fact that a majority of Dutch people are fluent in English and are used to read, write and speak English on a regular basis. Even the majority of shows on TV are in English.

Also a lot people either prefer to read authors in their original language (which is English in most cases) or just can’t wait until the translation in Dutch is released.

The same applies to children’s books. Of course for the very young children, five years or younger, their parents prefer to buy Dutch books, but I do see a lot of young children reading English books. Usually they have to read a book for school or they (or their parents)  want to improve their English. A lot of teenagers are voracious readers and they can really devour the Young Adult section. Especially during school-vacations it often happens we will have kids with their parents in the store bargaining about the amount of children’s books they will buy; the kids of course want to read as many books as possible, the parents just don’t want the top of the pile of books to reach the ceiling.

JKB: What genres fly off the shelves?

TZ: Even though they have been around for years now, books about paranormal romances ( i.e. girls who fall in love with pale boys with a mysterious and sad aura who happen to be vampires/werewolves/fallen angels) are still the best selling books in the Young Adult section. The Twilight serie by Stephanie Meyer is still the  undisputed ruler, but there are a lot of other series that also have a large following. The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, House of Night by P.C. and Kirsten Cast, Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare are a few examples of such series that fly of the shelves.

Recently also the dystopian novels have made a big impact. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is very popular. What is interesting is that a lot of these dystopian novels are not only about a future society that is controlled by a Big Brother like government, but  in which the environment has completely collapsed and people have to survive on a planet that is not as hospitable as it was once before.

Also the last few years there has been a rise of books in the Young Adult section that deals with the issue of death. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, a story about the suicide of a teenage girl and the impact it has on a boy in her school, is an example of these kind of books. I believe this is a good development because these books can make a tough subject (and what teenager has not been depressed or thought about death?) easier to talk about and help teenagers with their own development. Plus they are really good books to read.

JKB: Do you hand sell? What makes a book hand-sellable for you?

TZ: Yes, I often like to give suggestions or recommendations to kids and their parents. A lot of young adult books are really great but are often overlooked. So when a kid or parents are looking for something new I like to give them a little nudge towards the books I think they will love to read. It is always a great kick when they come back after a few weeks and ask if I have any more suggestions.

Two things makes a book hand-sellable: a great cover and a good hook. Especially with young-adult books these days you have great covers. Beautiful stylized, sometimes it’s almost as if you are looking at a movie-poster or a work of art. Of course you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t hurt if said cover manages to capture the eye. The second thing you need is a good hook. A book is very hand-sellable if you can say in one or two sentences what the story is about in such a way that it makes people go ‘hey I want to read that!’

JKB:  How do you find new books? (The avenues – publishers? requests?)

TZ: I use  the traditional sources – publishers and reviews in magazines – and I also listen to customer requests.

However, the last few years social media have become a really great tool to find new books. There are a lot of website that allow people to categorize and list the books they have read. So often I like to browse Goodreads, one of these websites, and just have a quick look what people are reading. If I notice a book is read by a lot of people and it gets a lot of positive feedback I know that we might have a potential winner. Basically it’s like a hundred people telling you about a book in less than five minutes.

JKB: I use Goodreads for that, too! What is the BEST part about working in a bookstore? Besides for the book discount? *g*

TZ: Bringing people into contact with new books. It literally brighten up my day if a customer walks towards me and ask if I can give a few recommendations. Often the recommendations turn into a little tour of the Young Adult section, or Sci-Fi section because I am also a big Sci-Fi fan. It is really nice when you spend some time with a customer just talking about books and you see their eyes glow with anticipation to read the books you showed.

Reading books is great, but sharing the books you love with other people is even better.

JKB: I think we can all agree that the ABC bookstore, and Tiemen, are so full of fabulosity that they will become a direct stop if you’re ever in Amsterdam (or plan to make a book-trek *raises hand*).

Thank you SO much, Tiemen, for being so great and allowing us to feature ABC on the blog!